I had a conference call earlier this evening for the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (I’m on NYAC’s Board of Directors) and it got me thinking. (NYAC works to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of LGBTQ youth does this through advocacy for and with young people and capacity-building with youth-serving organizations.)
At the start of the call we went around and introduced ourselves (many of us have never met in person) and said how many siblings we have. I think this was a great ice breaker (thanks Amita!) because it was a simple question: not too invasive, but still unexpectedly revealing.
As we went around, two people said they had seven (!) siblings, two more had four siblings, and the rest had fewer. People answered the question in different ways: some just said the number, some explained whether the siblings were biological, half, or step, some gave context beforehand explaining ages and birth countries.
What many of us had in common were non-nuclear blended families, non-traditional families, multiple step-relatives, much older or much younger siblings, and relatives who were born and/or raised in a different country or continent. While this is increasingly more common in modern life due to the frequency of divorce, relocation, and the ability to have children at an older age and live longer, I think that the ten or so people on the call over-represented these circumstances. As a sample, we as a group probably have more non-traditional families than most people.
I wonder if that experience growing up shaped who we are, all of us being activists and writers concerned with social justice and the recognition of our own chosen families and of queer relationships, for society at large to treat our love as legitimate and not to isolate us and limit our access to social services and fair treatment. Many of us grew up families that combined non-biological relatives and adopted persons into our lives, so we had to learn to understand complex definitions of family, marriage, and love. Some of us have a distinct racial identity from our immediate siblings and mix their cultures into our own self-definition. Some of us had siblings that grew up in a different culture yet we find shared experiences.
I can’t claim causation but I will say it’s fascinating to think that we had these family structures in our past and are now coming together to further liberate society from limited notions of family, relationships, and love.
I don’t thing this is new. My father had two half sisters, two step brothers and a step sister. With half sisters and step brothers he was very close, as if they were full brothers and sisters. I was close with daughter of his step brothers, they were my first cousins.
Wow. I find it amazing that this article (http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/01/19/leslie-feinberg-catherine-hyde/) came out the day before I wrote this post. It’s an angry one by Leslie Feinberg about chosen family, biological family, and when you no longer identify with the family you were born into.
I am sure your great grandmother would have loved this post!